The Brief: Anonymous messaging apps and sites are popular ways for teens to share their "true feelings," but are often overrun with hateful content and bullying. Here are some tips on how to navigate these apps while avoiding cyberbullying and invasions of privacy.
Anonymous Messaging Apps:
With increasing risks of surveillance from individuals, corporations, and governments, anonymity online can sound quite appealing. However, anonymous spaces online often foster cyberbullying, trolling, and illicit behavior – which are particularly prevalent and dangerous among children and teenagers. It is important for parents and their children to understand the risks associated with anonymous messaging apps like Sarahah, Tellonym, Kik, Yik Yak, ASKfm, and others.
The purpose of anonymous messaging apps can be “democratic open dialogue” and to have “honest” communities online. These apps are popular among teens who want to see what people really think of them – or to have the thrill of anonymous communication. Additionally, these apps create spaces that are less likely to be discovered or monitored by parents, teachers, potential employers, etc.
Some messaging apps are notorious for sexting and other illicit behavior. As people can hide behind anonymous, easy to make profiles, they can more readily bully others, be bullied, troll, spread hate speech, perpetuate fake news, and more.
Most of these apps and sites have rules and regulations to prevent these negative consequences, but not everything can be monitored, and the implications of use by minors are often overlooked.
Sarahah is a popular messaging platform advertised as an online suggestion box, where users create profiles and can receive anonymous messages, both public and private. The app was recently removed from the Apple and Google app stores after parents created a petition denouncing the harsh cyberbullying that occurred on the app- including messages telling teens to “go kill themselves.” Sarahah still exists as a website, and can be linked to Snapchat profiles for easy accessibility.
The collapses of now defunct anonymous messaging apps including Yik Yak and Secret show how they are often unsustainable in the long-term. However, new versions with similar concepts continue to emerge. Recently, Tellonym has been increasing in popularity, especially in the wake of Sarahah’s deletion from the app store.
How to Prevent Cyberbullying, Sexting, Etc.
- Talk to your kids about internet safety, particularly as it relates to their mental health.
- Talk about what kinds of online behaviors are and aren’t ok. Establish guidelines for being respectful to others online and not bullying. Talk about what to do if they are cyberbullied, or if they see someone else being cyberbullied. Discuss the consequences of sexting and of sharing personal information online.
- Watch out for new apps and sites that hit the market and become popular.